It’s less than a month since devastating floods took a costly toll on parts of Lancashire. But tomorrow, councillors are set to vote on swinging cuts.
Storm Eva hit Lancashire like a Christmas tidal wave.
But now victims, still cleaning up the mess a month later, have been sent reeling again by news that the county’s flood budget could be cut by as much as 12 per cent next year.
“Just incredible,” was the reaction of parish councillor Kath Almond, whose home was one of scores inundated on Boxing Day by the worst floods ever seen in the picturesque village of Croston.
“Surely, after all we have been through, they could have at least put this particular cutback on hold for the time being.”
County Hall’s cabinet was meeting today to finalise the authority’s financial strategy for the next five years.
Faced with having to find an extra £200m in economies on top of huge reductions already planned, the ruling Labour group says it has no option but to look at every possible area of savings.
And the county’s flood risk management team, which costs almost £700,000 to run, is one of those in the firing line.
The authority says changes made last April, which hand some of the team’s role covering drainage for housing developments to district councils, mean cuts of £78,000 can be made from its own budget for next year and £67,000 in 2017/18.
But Tory leader Coun Geoff Driver was unimpressed, claiming the economies - and timing - are “total folly.”
“In view of what happened on Boxing Day and on other occasions this winter, it just seems total folly to reduce the budget that enables the county council to react to flooding and disasters,” he said.
“This won’t prevent flooding, but it enables the county council to advise and respond when there are floods.”
Croston was one of a number of villages hit by the Christmas deluge. Hundreds of residents in St Michael’s, Ribchester and Whalley also saw their homes under water.
Kath Almond, who is chairman of the Lower Yarrow Flood Action Group, revealed the work to get Croston back to normal would take many more months yet.
So for the County Council to announce cuts to the flooding budget “does seem extraordinary.”
“The Government do seem to be supporting flood risk areas and would possibly compensate Lancashire County Council if they felt they couldn’t afford to,” she added at home in Grape Lane.
“Chorley Council have been excellent too. I can’t fault them at all. So for LCC to say they are cutting their flood risk team, for whatever reason, is just incredible at this time.
“In Croston the community has really pulled together. We are helping each other.
“People here are not going to be happy to hear this. They could have at least put it off for 12 months in view of what people have gone through and are still going through.”
Residents in St Michael’s are also still clearing up after the floods which forced dozens of householders out of their homes. The local school is still some way off re-opening and the village hall could take even longer to bring back into use.
“I don’t think people are going to be too happy to hear that the county’s flooding budget is being cut,” said Judith Hunt, who runs a ladies’ group which has been forced to move out to neighbouring Great Eccleston for meetings.
“I suppose with the deficit the county council has they have to make cutbacks. We can’t spend more than what is coming in, as any housewife knows. There have to be economies. But it is really bad timing.”
The ruling Labour group at County Hall defended the cuts, saying changes in the planning system meant the county’s flood risk responsibilities had changed.
“Government legislation passed in 2010 required the county council to act as an approval body for drainage systems required by new developments,” said Coun Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services. This process was intended to be funded by developers, and the county council created a flood risk management team to provide the resources to undertake this role.
“In April 2015 the Government scrapped this scheme and introduced a less rigorous system under which developers apply for planning permission to district councils. The reduction in funding for the flood risk management team reflects this change of role.”
Chorley Council’s Labour leader Coun Alistair Bradley said: “At the end of the day the public purse is a set amount of money. We are trying wherever we can to plug the gaps that the Government is forcing.
“The blame lies with the Government. Theirs are the economics of the madhouse.”